Nepotism, sinecures, blackmailing paedophiles, bribing officials… Juan Pablo Villalobos writes for PEN Atlas this week, explaining how a writer can expose and enable the general corruption of his countryThe writer is preparing to write a corrupt novel, a novel that reflects the state of general corruption in his country, which – let’s say – is called Mexico. It’s not a question of writing a novel about corruption, no, that wouldn’t be at all original or provocative. What he’s trying to do is to write a novel in a corrupt way, trying to imitate the corruption that prevails in his country. And so before picking up his pen, or switching on his computer, before even coming up with an idea that might become a novel, what he needs is peace and quiet to write the novel, he needs a salary so as not to have to worry about a matter as banal as money as he writes his masterpiece, the corrupt novel. But the writer can’t have a job, no, if he has to follow a schedule from nine in the morning to five in the evening, when is he going to write the corrupt novel? And this is where the corrupt novel starts: at the moment the writer asks his uncle (it could be his father, a cousin, a buddy, even a childhood friend), who turns out to be the deputy minister in some government department (he could be a secretary, a civil servant, a chief of staff, whatever) to put him on the payroll, without him being employed, that is, to employ him as what is known in Mexico as an ‘aviator,’ or a phantom employee. Great: now the writer has a salary without having to work and can devote himself to what really matters, to writing the corrupt novel. But there’s a problem, now that he thinks about it: his computer is old, and it’s not a Mac! Plus he doesn’t have a printer. And so he calls up his uncle (or cousin, or buddy, or whoever it is) and his uncle takes a Mac and an HP printer out of the federal budget. Perfect, now it really is time to start writing, to think about the novel’s structure, for in order to be a corrupt novel it must be governed by the principle of maximum economic efficiency. That is to say: how can I get more money out of my corrupt novel? This has nothing to do with thinking about sales of the novel, oh no. We can think about that later. Right now it has to do with thinking about getting money from the contents of the novel – what is the theme of the corrupt novel? Two options make themselves quite clear to our writer: extortion or publicity. Find a theme that could make things awkward for a person or a company and demand money for him not to write the novel. Or offer to write the novel praising a personality or a company, so that it functions as a veiled form of publicity, as propaganda. And why not both these things? Why not extortion first, and then veiled publicity? Brilliant. The writer finally gets down to work. He extorts money from a paedophile. Then he sells the project of writing a novel to the government of one of the central states in the country (it could be the north or the south, too). It will be a great corrupt novel about the magnificent achievements of the state governor. An epic the likes of which has not been written since the novels of the revolution. But the writer of the corrupt novel cannot write and, in any case, is far too busy spending: a) the money from his aviator’s salary, b) the extortion money, and c) the advance paid him by the state government. And so, for a ridiculous wage, he hires an intern, a young, very enthusiastic kid who’s attended eight hundred literary workshops. It’s an ingenious strategy: the corrupt novel can only be written by a literary ghost writer. While the literary ghost writer drafts the novel, the writer must concern himself with the things that really matter when dealing with a corrupt novel: the publication and mass-marketing of the book. Who is going to publish the corrupt novel? Easy. Here his deputy minister uncle (brother or father) again comes into play, as well as the governor who is the protagonist of the corrupt novel, who both bribe the owner of a publishing house to publish it. Sorted. And it’s not even a cash bribe, no – it’s a promise that the government, by way of the system of state schools, the network of libraries and the various programmes encouraging reading, will buy thousands of copies of the corrupt novel. The circle is complete when thousands of shelves in bookshops throughout the country are filled with copies of the corrupt novel. It’s now that the corrupt writer will reveal the true story of the corrupt novel, its genesis and development, will explain to everyone that the corrupt novel was actually a performance to expose the generalized state of corruption in the country. But as he is about to do so, just as he is about to upload to his blog (and to Twitter and Facebook) a text with the explanation, he receives the offer of a tremendous bribe if he decides to keep his mouth shut (if he doesn’t accept, he will have to live with the consequences). And the writer, who over the course of writing the novel has been converted to corruption, the writer who is now a corrupt writer, takes the bribe and keeps quiet.Additional InformationRead the original piece in Spanish.About the authorJuan Pablo Villalobos was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1973. After eight years in Barcelona he lives now in Brazil. He has two Mexican-Brazilian-Catalan-Italian children. His first novel, Down the Rabbit Hole, was published in Spanish in 2010 and is being translated into fourteen languages. His second novel Quesadillas was published in English in 2013. He writes for different magazines, newspapers and blogs of Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Colombia.About the translatorRosalind Harvey lives in Bristol where she translates Hispanic fiction. In 2011 she was one of the first translators in residence at the Free Word Centre in London. Her translation of Juan Pablo Villalobos’ debut novel Down the Rabbit Hole was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize, and her co-translation of Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas was shortlisted for the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. She is a committee member of the Translators Association, a founding member and chair of the Emerging Translators Network, and also runs regular translation-related events in and around London. Her most recent translation is Villalobos’ Quesdillas, with And Other Stories.